We just wrapped up another play test, this one of epic proportion. This post is a progress update, but also some more generally applicable thoughts on how to best introduce new play mechanics and, in particular, core gameplay loop-altering abilities.
We had a second playtest in early January but it had to be cut off in the middle and we’re only picking it up again now, in early February.
General Thoughts on the Jan-Feb 2022 Playtest
Total gameplay time: around 7 hours, and that was to play through about the second half of the game. We had thought that we were offering about 6 hours of playable content, but this player started in the middle and played for 7 hours, and they weren’t particularly slow, and didn’t get particularly stuck. Probably fair to say at this point that our overall playable content is closer to 12 hours. Longer than we expected.
Our mechanics are reasonably solid, but the main outstanding problem is one of spell balance. The tester found two weapons that could solve any problem, and kept using them forever, even as solutions that would be more fun became available. Watching the tester play, I was struck by a set of lessons we’ve been learning the hard way for years. There is a solution to this. So let me articulate what we’ve learned and need to do to address that problem.
I use the term Spells below, but these rules are abstractable to any set of gameplay-altering abilities, tools, or weapons.
Observations About How To Introduce Gameplay-Altering Abilities
- Make sure that no single spell permits single-handed victory. In our game, the spells for Metal Form needs attention, as does Gravity Lance, and we need a stun or lock mechanic.
- Make sure that all spells rock-paper-scissors with a valid use and a valid counter. This forces pa
- Refine the loot/level-up sequence to make spell learning more incremental and satisfying and to make sure that spells are learned at the appropriate moments.
- Somehow isolate the spell learn moment to give the player time to experiment with their new tool regardless of what else might be going on. A few thoughts here:
- Don’t give people new tools that they don’t understand in places where they are under a lot of pressure to advance or cognitive load to solve. In areas where your players are under pressure to solve/advance they will not pause to practice a new tool (nor should they, the environment is asking them not to). Instead, they’ll pocket the tool, forget it exists, and never use it again even if it’s necessary to advance, at which point they will just get frustrated.
- Do give people tools that are evidenced in their environment: in an environment where enemies chuck bullets at them, give them the bullet spell. They won’t need to stop and experiment: they’ll have a pretty decent idea what it does.
- Don’t give people the answers to problems they don’t have yet. They’ll pocket it, forget about it, and then never use it again even when they need to. First show them the problem, then offer a solution they have to work to receive.
- Abilities should be gained as the satisfactory delivery of a player-motivated search for the answer to a problem the player has experienced. OR abilities should be gained in a place where they are required to immediately test it in a satisfying way that demonstrates its value.
If we can apply these lessons we should have a much better game.
Between the December and January Platests We’ve Added
- Complete retooling of the shuffle zone with a new and very different advancement mechanic for the puzzle elements.
- Complete retooling of the bounce zone with a new and very different advancement mechanic for the puzzle elements, specifically sweeping away with the last vestigas of the old republic er… I mean removing the bounce glyph from the universe and replacing it with something much better.
- Complete retooling of the bounce divider for tighter iteration on the core learning experiences and delivery of a play space specifically tuned to the area above it.
- Some tweaks to the Absorb spell to make rapid firing of it (without holding to aim) more intuitive. Playtesters were just firing it off a bunch of times rather than aiming it carefully, and we wanted to support that. Hopefully this works a little better.
- Fixed a bug where monkey gods had each-other’s eyes. Eldritch horror.
- Stability tweaks and upgrades to the damage system to make chunks more survivable in a high damage initial event and to make small debris behave more reasonably. It will never be reasonable.
- Tweaks to the player’s movement code to make winged feet feel more impactful and to make jumping off ledges and landing on ledges a little more intuitive.
- Changes to the lockable interface to allow locks to be broken.
- It is now only possible to learn a spell part once from each turret.
- New attack zone at the entrance to the tower. You can’t get in for free.
- Added a falling block to ManaFall a la Tomb Raider. Still needs some fixup. Also substantial changes to Mana-Fall, expanded grid, more playspace, scratchings updates.